Photo courtesy of Reddit user u/bigskyreleaf
TL;DR – Starlink is a broadband satellite internet system. If you are in an area NOT served by fiber or cable internet and have a clear view of the sky, consider signing up today. It is that good.
SpaceX is developing a low-latency, broadband satellite internet system. The Idaho Report has been beta-testing the system since November 2020. The download speeds range from 25-170 Mbps, and Uploads are 10-40 Mbps.
Rural and off-grid property owners now have access to high-speed internet from Starlink.
Starlink is a constellation of small satellites developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Starlink will provide fast, reliable internet to locations with little or no connectivity, including those in rural communities and places where existing services are too expensive or unreliable.
The price of that remote cabin or ranch might just make sense now that you can stream, work from home, host zoom meetings, and use WiFi calling while the kids attend remote learning classes.
In November 2020, I was selected to participate in the Starlink “better than nothing beta.”
Users were told: “During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.”
My download speeds have ranged from 25-170 Mbps, and Uploads are 10-40 Mbps. Lately, my speeds have been less, but as SpaceX launches more satellites, I expect higher speeds to return. Overall the service has steadily improved and is reliable enough that I will soon cancel my other (wireless) internet connection.
One box, under 10-minute setup
Everything needed to connect to the Internet is included in the box. All the user needs to supply is power.
Photo courtesy of Reddit user u/Lutherized
The kit includes a tripod, power supply, and wireless router. Users can also use their own router.
Photo courtesy of Reddit user u/fierybobcat
High speed and low latency separate Starlink from traditional satellite internet service.
Latency, normally measured in milliseconds (1/1000 of a second), is the total round-trip time it takes for a packet of data to reach a remote server and return to your computer. Most computers have a “ping” utility to perform this test.
The latency on traditional satellite internet service can range from 500-800 milliseconds. To put that into perspective, a phone call starts to feel unnatural with a latency above 150 milliseconds and degrades significantly above 200 milliseconds.
Starlink satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, resulting in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet. Below is a screenshot of a ping test through Starlink to Google’s public DNS server.
Internet applications that require low latency include:
- Phone service (VOIP).
- Video conferencing (zoom, etc).
- Remote computing (RDP, VNC).
- SQL (database) operations.
- Volatile financial trades (forex, day trading).
- any other “real time” application.
Applications that tolerate higher latency include:
- Web surfing.
- Streaming (Movies, Music).
- Online chat.
- Social media.
Fast uploads, why it matters.
My current Internet provider, in addition to Starlink, is Intermax Networks. They provide wireless (microwave) internet to North Idaho. The service has been reliable, but the maximum upload they offer is a paltry 3 Mbps. I have asked several times if they can provide faster uploads and have been denied each time.
- I sometimes upload large data files to my company network. Every time I hit save, I would get up and do something to pass the time until Starlink.
- When Covid hit, my wife would record videos for her students; longer videos would take so much time that her laptop would go to sleep, pausing the upload. Uploading a video to YouTube can take hours on a slow connection.
- An HD video conference will consume almost all of a 3Mb upload connection, leaving nothing for other users.
What are the possibilities?
- Backcountry communications for search and rescue or fire fighting applications.
- Most cell phones now have WiFi calling capabilities. Starlink users in remote areas not served by cellular communications can make telephone calls using the VOIP technology built into your cellphone or with other VOIP products.
- Solar power generation systems are inexpensive enough now to be viable in northern climates. Solar, coupled with Starlink, Voice over IP telephone, and a WiFi mesh system make it possible to live almost anywhere.
- Remote ranches, Airstrips, Accommodations, RV parks, perhaps a bed and breakfast accessible only by snowmobile.
- Video surveillance and security for your remote cabin.
At our property in North Idaho, where we are testing Starlink, I use the Ubiquiti Unifi mesh Enterprise WiFi system. This system consists of 5 WiFi access points and a controller. This allows me to have seamless internet over the 5 acres of my property that are covered. The only cell coverage we have is at the entrance to the driveway. We rely on WiFi calling everywhere else. We also have VOIP house phones, which are extensions from my office in town.
- Cost: $499 with the associated service for $99/month.
- Power consumption: approximately 100 watts.
- Temperature range: -30°C (-22F) and up to 40°C (104F).
- Snow: The electronics produce enough heat to melt snow that falls on the dish. Contrary to popular belief, there are no dedicated heating elements in the dish.
- Antenna type: self orienting, phased array. Once the dish orients itself, it does not move unless physically moved or rebooted. The “beam” is electronically steered to track individual satellites instantaneously.
- Network addressing: CGNAT or Carrier-grade network address translation. Multiple users share a public IP address. This is in addition to any NAT that your router performs.
- VPN Capable: yes, The Idaho Report tested OpenVPN and IPSEC. Both function.
- IPv6: Limited, rolling out soon per Starlink engineers. This will solve all NAT problems while opening up novice network designs to a host of security issues. Do not enable IPv6 on any Internet connection if you do not have training in IPv6.
Starlink is certified to operate in temperatures as low as -30°C (-22F) and up to 40°C (104F).
Photo courtesy of Reddit user from u/Known-Firefighter762
Starlink satellites connect to the internet via ground stations called gateways. There are already several gateways in the U.S. and Canada, 1 in the UK and 4 in Australia. More gateways are planned in the US and internationally. Gateways are close to high-speed fiber lines. Idaho currently has one Gateway in Bonner County. Starlink Gateway map.
Butte Montana Starlink Gateway
Closeup of satellite gateway antenna
Photos courtesy of Reddit user u/K7JPH
Nearly 12,000 satellites are planned to be deployed, with another 30,000 planned for Gen 2 Starlink.
Beginning in May 2019, SpaceX began launching up to 60 satellites at a time aboard its Falcon 9 reusable launch vehicle. There are currently 1021 Starlink satellites in orbit. Two more launches are scheduled for February 2021.
Two stacks of 30 Starlink satellites inside the Falcon 9 fairing. The satellites are deployed at an altitude of 275km. The solar-powered satellites climb to their final altitude using an ion propulsion thruster.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX
The four flat panels on the Starlink satellite are “phased array” radio antennas. There is a single solar array, which unfolds upwards like a map
Photo courtesy of SpaceX
Intersatellite links allow satellites to transfer data from one satellite to another.
The Starlink satellites recently launched into polar orbit are equipped with laser crosslinks, which the company plans to add to other satellites next year. Laser links will extend coverage to remote areas and oceans, where ground stations are not available.
During testing of the “space lasers” last year, SpaceX said: “With these space lasers, the Starlink satellites were able to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data,…Once these space lasers are fully deployed, Starlink will be one of the fastest options available to transfer data around the world.”
Reports of Starlink satellites ruining stargazing.
After reports of long exposure photographs of the night sky being ruined by streaks from reflective satellites, SpaceX began testing installing mitigating features. For example, darkening of the phased-array antennae and adding sun shades. SpaceX is testing re-orienting the satellites as they rise to their final orbital altitude, reducing the surface area exposed to sunlight, and thus the amount of light reflected.
The Idaho report researched the number of aircraft over the U.S. compared with Starlink satellites and found the following:
At any given time, there are currently far more aircraft in the sky over the US than there will be Starlink satellites in the future.
During our observation, the number of Starlink satellites over the contiguous U.S. ranged from 17-36. The high count was due to the recent Starlink 18 launch train passing over the central US during our final observation. Using the high of 36 out of 1021 total Starlink satellites in orbit suggests when the Starlink constellation is complete, there could be approximately 400 satellites passing over the lower 48.
Also during our observation period, there were approximately 3800 aircraft aloft over the US in the afternoon and 2200 aloft at 7:00 pm PST, with 75 airplanes over Idaho alone.
Screenshot showing more than 3500 aircraft over the US. www.flightradar24.com
The 2 aircraft in this image are the Cessna 172 at 8.3 meters in length and the Boeing 737-800 at 39.5 meters. The blue rectangle is the Starlink satellite at approximately 2.8 meters long. The C-172 would appear to be about 9mm long cruising at 5,500 ft AGL, while the 737 would appear about 7mm long at FL35, (35,000 ft). Although its reflection might be visible at times, the Starlink satellite is invisible to the naked eye at 550km orbital altitude.
Homebuyers from places like California are surprised to learn that many Idaho locations do not have broadband internet. Starlink is going to change that, along with the value of property in those places. If you are selling a rural or remote house, get Starlink.
As far as ruining the night sky, that ship sailed here in Idaho a few years ago. With tens of thousands moving here, it seems that many of the recent equity locusts are afraid of the dark, as the first thing they do, in my neck of the woods at least, is demand a street light be placed near their driveway, then they install four 100W lightbulbs on their pilasters and garage doors.
The night sky has changed so much over the past five years in North Idaho. There used to be a faint glow in the distance from the city of Coeur d’Alene, as viewed from my Hot tub. Now I can read a book on a cloudy night because of the reflected light.
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